Mar 5, 2005
We took Jet Blue to Los Angeles and flew in to Long Beach airport - a bit south of the city, it's a small airport with very few flights (nice). And, it's the only airport that Jet Blue flies to so we didn't have a choice. The flight was five and half hours and quite comfortable. One way that JB cuts costs is the elimination of airlines food. So we took old-fashioned, homemade sandwiches instead and had a feast as we flew over the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon. Then Las Vegas, the Nevada desert and a few minutes later, Los Angeles.
Our bags were first on the carousel and then we were on our way, picking up our rental car - a convertible - and heading up the coast to the city and our hotel: the Hilton Checkers on Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. You might not realize that L.A. has a downtown but it does. Most people visiting Los Angeles head for the hills (Beverly), Hollywood and the Pacific shore and, truly, that's the LA. that tourists know when thinking about visiting the second largest city in the country.
Our hotel on Grand Avenue in Downtown, L.A.
We settled into our room and unpacked and then went out for a walk. Our destination: Mike's loft that he moved into a month or so ago in the so-called Fashion District. Mike's place was about 10 long blocks away and, as we walked there, we began to notice that beyond our lovely boutique hotel and the streets surrounding it; Beyond the fabulous skyline that the city is known for, with its towering glass and steel modernity housing the likes of Citibank, Mellon Bank, SBC Communications and other giant conglomerates, the rest of downtown is very poor, with huge numbers of homeless people, mostly Black and Latino and some poor whites thrown in for good measure. The contrast between rich and poor is very much in your face in Los Angeles.
The Fashion District is many, many square blocks of cut rate fabric, notions and trimmings stores and outlets and was unlike anything we've ever seen anywhere else. Sure, New York has its garment district, but it's all "upstairs." Los Angeles' district is all at street level (with a few higher rise buildings housing sweatshop factories) with hundreds, maybe thousands of small stores, one after another devoted to the wholesaling of anything and everything related to fashion and garment construction.
Mike's place is in a squat, brick building that houses a few businesses and a couple of residences (for which the landlord has apparently looked the other way). These are not zoned for living in but like many center-city areas across the country, people are now moving back in to what, a few years ago, would never have been considered a cool place to reside. Mike and his girlfriend, Lynn, and their four cats are on the second floor and the long stairway up to their space is shared with a mechanical runner that's used to deliver merchandise up and down to the lofts above.
Lynn, Stacey and Mike in the new loft on Wall Street.
Mike and Lynn's new loft.
Lynn - hanging out.
Mike and his bike.
In front of our hotel, waiting for the car.
Dinner was a car ride away down Olympic Avenue. First, the four of us walked back to the hotel and our rental car and then drove down the avenue through a sea of Korean restaurants, groceries and businesses. There, in the middle of this Asian community was a Mexican restaurant we read about on a few websites: Guelaguetza which specialized in the cuisine of Oaxaca. Reviewers and customers raved about the Mole (which simply means "sauce" ) Mole, as most of us know it, is a dark brown, thick sauce, typically spread over a piece of chicken, and it has a rich, intense flavor based on a complex slew of ingredients, the strangest and most unexpected of which is chocolate. Of course, when it's all put together, you don't taste the chocolate but it does add to the intense and delirious flavor.
I say "most of us" know it in the above-mentioned way, but this restaurant had not one but six mole sauces: green (verde), red (rojo), another red (coloradito), yellow (amarillo), black (negro) and mole manchamanteles, made from pineapple and plantains. Wow! Mike, like me, is a mole freak so he was in heaven and so was I.
We walked into a restaurant whose customers were all Latinos. It had to be good and it had to be authentic, we thought and indeed it was. Los Angeles is not New York. Most restaurants close at 10, particularly during the week. It was Thursday night and after eight when we arrived. Three musicians were performing some Latin popular tunes with guitars and voice.There were a few customers at various tables and one big table had about 15 people seated around it. This was an extended Mexican family out to celebrate an anniversary or other occasion (we couldn't tell). Around the table were seated four generations. This was a family feast with a lot of smiles and family warmth. Then the elderly mother and father got up, joined the musicians on the stage and held each other in a tender dance. We joined the family and the other customers in applause at this beautiful expression of love and age.
Guelaguetza restaurant on Olympic Avenue.
A romantic moment at Guelaguetza restaurant.
Enjoying the mole at Guelaguetza.
We had a lovely dinner with great food and memorable ambience. We drove Lynn and Mike back to Wall Street and then we returned to our hotel. We had started out at 9 am in New York. It was now midnight in L.A. (and 3 am back home). Were we tired? Yep.